Science Is Betrayed If It´s Not at Service of Man, Pope Says

Address to Rectors of Polish Universities

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 14, 2001 ( John Paul II held an audience Aug. 30 in the courtyard of the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo with some 100 rectors of Polish universities and centers of higher studies. On that occasion, the Holy Father delivered the following address:

Very Distinguished and Dear Gentlemen and Ladies:

1. I welcome you and greet you warmly. I am happy to receive the distinguished rectors of the Polish higher schools again. I am grateful to Professor Woznicki, president of the College of Academic Rectors of Polish Schools, for the introduction, and his kind words to me.

Our meetings are now traditional and, in a certain sense, a sign of the dialogue established between the world of science and that of faith, «Fides et Ratio.» It would seem that the time has finally passed in which attempts were made to pit these two worlds against one another. The conviction is increasingly growing, as the fruit of the efforts of many intellectual and theological realms, sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit, that science and faith are not foreign to one another but, on the contrary, both need and reciprocally complement each other. I think the positive reception of the encyclical «Fides et Ratio» was due, precisely, to the increasingly profound awareness of the need for dialogue between intellectual knowledge and religious experience. I thank God for every inspiration that leads us in this direction.

Lights and Shadows of the Progress of Technology

2. During our meetings I have touched upon different topics related to the university, the school of higher studies, and the scientific institute as a realm that has notable influence in time on the existence of man, society and humanity. I am always very conscious of the extraordinary role of the university and higher school, and this is the reason I am very interested in the attention given to its form, so that the influence it exerts in the world and in the life of every man will always signify good, possibly the greatest good, in each sector. Only in this way will the university and higher school contribute to real progress and will not represent a danger for man.

I remember that, when I wrote my first encyclical, «Redemptor Hominis,» over 20 years ago, my reflection was accompanied by the question on the mystery of fear that modern man experiences. Among its different sources, I thought it was important to emphasize one: the experience of the threat originating from what is a product of man, the fruit of the work of his hands and, even more so, the work of his intelligence, of the tendencies of his will. At the beginning of the Third Millennium, this experience is even more intense. Indeed, it often happens that what man is able to produce, thanks to the ever new possibilities of thought and technology, becomes an object of «alienation,» and, if not totally so, at least in part, escapes the control of the author and turns against him (see «Redemptor Hominis,» 15). There are many examples of this situation. Suffice it to mention the successes in the field of physics, especially nuclear physics, or in the field of the transmission of information, the process of exploitation of the natural resources of the earth and, finally, experimentation in the field of genetics and biology.

Unfortunately, this also affects the sectors of science that are more connected to the development of thought than to technical means. We know what threats emerged during the last century because philosophy was placed at the service of ideology. We are aware that it is very easy to use the achievements in the sector of psychology against man, against his freedom and personal integrity. With increasing frequency we discover how literature, art and music, can destroy the personality, especially of youth, if a content hostile to man is inserted in its process of creation.

In experiencing the results of the «alienation» of the work in regard to the author, both in the personal as well as the social sphere, humanity finds itself, in a certain sense, at a crossroads. On one hand, it is evident that man is called and gifted by the Creator to create, to rule the earth. It is also known that the fulfillment of this mission has become the motor for development in the different sectors of life, a development that should be kept at the service of the common good. On the other hand, however, humanity fears that the fruits of the creative effort might turn against it and even become means of destruction.

The Important Role of the Universities

3. In the context of this tension, we are all aware that the universities and centers of higher studies, which directly promote development in the different spheres of life, play a key role. Therefore, it is necessary to ask oneself what the intrinsic form of these institutions should be, so that a continuous process of creation is undertaken in such a way that its fruits do not suffer «alienation» and turn against man, their author.

It seems that the foundation of the hope for that orientation of the university is concern for man, for his humanity. No matter what the field of research, of scientific or creative work, whoever wishes his science, talents, and efforts to be used should ask himself to what extent his work forges his own humanity first; then, whether or not it makes man´s life more human, more worthy of him, from all points of view; and, finally, whether or not in the framework of development, of which he is author, man «really makes himself better, that is, more spiritually mature, more aware of the dignity of his humanity, more responsible, more open to others, particularly the neediest and weakest, more ready to give to and assist all» («Redemptor Hominis,» 15).

This concept of science, understood in the wide sense, manifests its character of service. In fact, if science is not exercised in the sense of service to man, it can easily be subordinated to economic interests, with the consequent lack of concern for the common good or, even worse, can be used to dominate others and included among the totalitarian aspirations of individuals or social groups.

This is why, both mature scientists as well as beginning students, should analyze whether or not their correct desire to study further the mysteries of learning corresponds to the fundamental principles of justice, solidarity, social love and respect for the rights of every man, people and nation.

Obligations stem from science´s character of service, not just in regard to man and society, but also, and perhaps above all, in relation to truth itself. The scientist is not a creator of truth, but its researcher. Truth is revealed to him to the degree he is faithful to it. Respect for truth obliges the scientist or philosopher to do everything within his reach to study it in depth and, to the extent possible, to present it with precision to others.

Certainly, as the Council affirms, «created things and societies themselves have their own laws and values that man must gradually discover, apply, and order» («Gaudium et Spes,» 36) and, to this end, it is necessary to recognize the methodological requisites proper to each science and art. However, it is good to remember that the only correct search for truth is the one carried out with a methodic examination, in a really scientific way, and respecting moral norms. The correct aspiration to the knowledge of truth can never neglect what belongs to the essence of truth: recognition of good and evil.

We are now touching upon the autonomy of the sciences. Today, the postulate of unlimited freedom in scientific research is often defended. In this regard, if on one hand — as I have said — it is necessary to recognize the right of the sciences to apply the methods of research that are proper to them; on the other, one cannot agree with the affirmation that the field of research itself is not subject to any limitations. The boundary is, precisely, the fundamental distinc
tion between good and evil. This distinction takes place in man´s conscience.

Therefore, it can be said that the autonomy of the sciences ends where the right conscience of the scientist recognizes evil, the evil of the method, of the result or the effect. This is why it is so important that the university and the higher institute of sciences not limit themselves to transmit knowledge, but that they be a place for the formation of a right conscience. In fact, the mystery of wisdom resides in this, and not in knowledge. And, as the Council affirms «more than in past centuries, our era needs this wisdom in order to humanize all the new discoveries made by man. If wise men are not formed, the future destiny of the world is in danger» («Gaudium et Spes,» 15).

Competition Must Be Regulated

4. Today there is much talk of globalization. There is the impression that this process also affects science and that it does not always have a positive influence. One of the threats hovering over globalization is an unhealthy competition. Researchers, what is more, many scientific realms believe that in order to maintain competitiveness in the realm of the world market, thought, research and experimentation cannot only be carried out with just methods, but must be adapted to objectives indicated with anticipation and to the expectations of the largest possible public, even if this implies a transgression of inalienable human rights. From this perspective, the exigencies of truth give way to the so-called laws of the market.

This can easily lead to reticence in some aspects of truth or even to the manipulation of it, only in order to present it in an acceptable way to public opinion. In turn, this acceptance is exhibited as sufficient proof of the success of these unjustifiable methods.

In this situation it is also difficult to maintain the fundamental rules of ethics.

So, then, the competitiveness of scientific centers, although correct and desirable, cannot be developed at the cost of truth, goodness and beauty, at the cost of values like human life, from conception until natural death, or of the resources of the natural environment. Consequently, the university and every scientific center, in addition to transmitting knowledge, must teach how to recognize clearly the justness of the methods and also how to have the courage to give up what is methodologically possible but ethically condemnable.

This requirement can only be carried out with farsightedness, that is, with the capacity to foresee the effects of human acts and assume the responsibility for man´s situation, not only here and at this moment, but also in the farthest corner of the world and in the indefinite future. Both the scientist as well as the student must always learn to foresee the direction of development and the effects that their scientific research can have on humanity.

Collaboration Between Technical and Humanistic Sciences

5. These are only some reflections, some suggestions that stem from concern for the human dimension of the schools of university studies. These postulates are more easily verified if there is close collaboration and exchange of experiences established between the representatives of the technical and humanistic sciences, including theology. There are many possibilities of contact in the ambit of existing university structures. I think that meetings such as this one open new perspectives of cooperation for the development of science and for the good of man and the whole of society.

If I speak about all this today, I do so because «the Church, which is inspired by eschatological faith, considers this concern for man, for his humanity, for the future of men on earth and, consequently, also for the orientation of all development and progress, an essential element of its mission, indissolubly united to it. And it finds the principle of this concern in Jesus Christ himself, as the Gospels evidence. And for this reason, it desires to further it continually in him, rediscovering the situation of man in the contemporary world, according to the most important signs of our time» («Redemptor Hominis,» 15).

Distinguished Gentlemen and Ladies, I thank you for your presence and for your desire for ample collaboration with a view to the development of Polish and world science, which you manifest not only on solemn occasions such as this one, but also in your daily university activity. You constitute a particular environment that, I hope, will find its equivalent in the structures of the Europe that is [in the process of] uniting.

I ask you to transmit to your collaborators, the esteemed professors, the scientific and administrative personnel, and all the students, my cordial greetings and the assurance of my constant remembrance in prayer. May the light of the Holy Spirit accompany the whole environment of scientists, intellectuals and men of culture in Poland. May God´s blessing sustain you always.

[original in Polish; translated by ZENIT, based on the Italian translation by L´Osservatore Romano]

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